Am I a mother? Should I celebrate Mother’s day? What should I answer when people ask me if I have kids? Do I just play along with strangers who make comments about “my daughter”? Going along is much easier than trying to explain to every person on the street that my “daughter” really isn’t “my daughter”. I am called a mom by many of our friends and family but am I really? If the question were to only rely on me having given birth to her then, the answer would obviously be no. Of Course being a mother is much more complex than simply giving birth and the lines get much fuzzier in foster care. One case can be drastically different than the next. There can be a child in a situation where they cannot have any contact with their birth parents, much less, return home. Another child may see both or one of their parents regularly and be on a solid track towards reunification. Kids often develop attachments to their foster families in addition to their birth families which complicates matters more- especially for older children. One thing that has stuck with me from the training we had to take before getting our foster care license, was the importance of explaining to kids that they don’t have to choose. Often times kids develop emotional and behavior problems because of the inner conflict they have concerning their foster families and birth families. It’s important to explain to older children that it’s ok to love both their families- each family has played an important role in their life and neither one can replace the other. Both are allowed to have special places in their hearts without having to choose who to love. Their birth family will always be their birth family no matter what- nothing will or can change that. Their foster family will always have been that- their foster family and the time spent with them and the relationships developed there will always be a reality in their life.
Birth mom will ALWAYS be birth mom no matter what and foster mom will never take her place, not even adoptive mom will take her place. No one could ever take the place of a birth mom. Even for the child adopted from a distant country who never met her, there will always be that spot in his or her heart missing. Even for the abused child whose mother really cannot take care of him, who really actually poses a risk to them- the child will always wonder, always have questions, always long to have had that connection with her. Kids do not know if they have a good mom or a bad mom, they simply know who their mom is and love her for that reason. It’s important to remember that God never intended for families to be torn apart for any reason. Adoption is beautiful and joyous but is ALWAYS accompanied by tremendous loss. A loss that humans were never intended to experience. The only one who can provide any sort of fullness is God. The love of Christ is so vast it can fill any and every void- even the void of a mother.
It’s important for foster moms and adoptive moms to understand that they are not birth mom. This is not a bad thing, this is not an insult, it does not devalue what they have done for the child. It does not make them “fake” mom, and it does not put into question their love for the child. No matter what, nothing will erase the existence of birth mom. Therefore, if this is true, then what is also true is that nothing will ever replace you- foster (or adoptive) mom either. No one could have done what you did for the child while they were in your care. Respecting and honoring the place that birth mom has enables you to fulfill the irreplaceable role that you have been given. You will never fulfill your full potential or achieve peace if instead of focusing on the job you’ve been given, you’re constantly trying to take the place of another that doesn’t belong to you.
Respecting and honoring the place that birth mom has enables you to fulfill the irreplaceable role that you have been given.
To all the moms who have never been involved with any type of foster care or adoption, the reality is that you’re a lot more like me than you think. How? Because your kids aren’t really your kids. They’re God’s kids.God entrusted you to welcome His child through birth and provide care and love for them for as long as He chooses. God entrusted me to welcome His child through foster care and provide care and love for her until He chooses. Some say foster care carries too many difficult variables and too much uncertainty for them to feel comfortable participating in it… Is making the decision to give birth to a child who will be completely dependent on you for at least 18 years really sound like a less “frightening” choice? Even “regular” families experience unexpected twists and turns in their journey that leave them feeling all sorts of emotions. On a more somber note- life is also full of accidents and tragedies, we don’t know how long our children will be with us- a child’s life can be lost at any second for any reason. People think twice about becoming foster parents because they see the gravity of the responsibility, they understand it’ll make them vulnerable, and without control. However people do not tend to think as deeply before making the commitment to give birth to a child- does having a child not hold the same level of gravity of responsibility? Does it not expose even the deepest vulnerabilities inside human hearts? Any kind of parenting is a huge deal… people expect you to have kids (that’s not a bad thing necessarily) but not everyone reacts with the same joy if you tell them you chose to become a foster parent. There are always many cautions and warnings about it… shouldn’t there be the same amount of cautions and warnings for conceiving and giving birth to a child as well!? After all- in both situations you are responsible for the LIFE of a child. Whatever way you cut it, this is no easy task.
Another commonality all moms have is that we can’t save children and we cannot be saved by children. People who enter foster care to “save kids” are greatly mistaken. People who have babies to fulfill their desires, as a way to gain unconditional love (in other words to-save themselves) are also greatly mistaken. God is the only one who can save them, He is the only one who can save you, and the only one who can save me. Moms are so often depicted as super heroes, they are greatly celebrated and venerated every year and with good reason. Moms play an incredibly important role in raising the next generation, they often juggle many tasks at once while also making sure that their child is well fed, clean and loved. But the reality is that even though moms are amazing (I have the best one of course) their “super powers” are still limited. They cannot provide the radically transforming, ultimately freeing and absolutely saving spiritual LIFE that Christ can. This truth can bring either a deep peace or a deep angst in the heart of a mother- the decision is up to you. One can choose peace and rest in God’s superior wisdom and lift up their children to Him in trusting prayer; or one can live in constant angst trying to control, the decisions and outcomes of their child’s life and constantly fail. On the flip side, we often hear moms say that their kids are their life, their world, and without them they wouldn’t have any reason to live. These are deep sentiments that tug at all the strings in our hearts, children enrich, enliven and profoundly change the way we live and our motivations to live. It’s good to deeply love our children- anything other than that signals trouble. However, the purpose of your life should never fall on the shoulders of a child. That is a weight that a child was never intended to carry. Their accomplishments and failures, although may have a heavy impact on your emotional life, should not determine the course of your life nor the perception of your success. God intended for us to be dependent on Him, to find success in Him, to find peace in Him and to find unconditional perfect love in Him, not a child who has the same desperate need for Him as we do.
I must make it clear that we chose this path- we wanted this and we understood from the beginning that foster care is not to provide a child to a family but to provide a family to a child. To foster means to encourage growth, nurture or help the development of something. In the case of foster care, it is to help nurture and encourage the growth of a child that is not related to you by blood ties- this is what we do. I did not become part of the foster care system to become a mother, this would be the most ineffective, uncertain way to do that. I have not welcomed a child into my life to be their mother, but to welcome Christ himself. In Matthew 18:5 Jesus makes the statement that whoever welcomes a child in His name welcomes Him. This puts just how heavy a responsibility it is to welcome a child into your family into perspective- we must love, and cherish them as we love and cherish Christ. But this also means that we must listen, respect, honor and treat our kids with all the reverence we would give God. Their eyes are the eyes of Christ- a child who cannot speak still has the power to deeply convict us of our own sinfulness because through them, we have welcomed the opportunity to be taught by Christ himself. As Christians we should never welcome children into our lives- whether by birth or by any other means- in order to “own” them “save” them or to fulfill our own needs, but to welcome Christ.
So even though to many I am not a “real mom” and I myself still have questions about this crazy ride I’m in, this is what I’m sure about:
I kneel at the mercy and grace that God provides me day by day so I can stand where He intended me to stand, and fulfill a role that He chose specifically for me. I do not know what tomorrow holds but I do know that He holds me. He is teaching me more through the little girl in my care than I could ever teach her; and He is revealing the depths of His love to me through her more than I could have ever imagined.
I am a mom!